Can't chop the Trop

Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago I mused
that rather than building a new ballpark, maybe the Rays would be
better off simply taking a can opener to Tropicana Field, refitting it
with grass and a retractable roof, and otherwise making the best of
things. I thought I was pretty clever too! Seems that the Rays were one step ahead of me, however. It also seems like the idea is not as good as I thought it was:

Even
with a $471 million overhaul, complete with a retractable roof,
supersized concourse and upgraded seating, Tropicana Field would remain
a subpar facility with substantial design flaws, according to a Tampa
Bay Rays’ consultant report released Monday.

“When we got
done this would be a B-, B+ type of baseball facility as opposed to,
obviously, if we do a brand new ballpark, it would be an A+,” said Joe
Spears, president of Populous, a design firm hired by the Rays . . .
Converting Tropicana Field into a first-class facility would require a
sweeping redesign, the report says, so much so that the project would
cost more than the Rays’ abandoned plan to build a $450 million
waterfront stadium.

At the heart of that conclusion is the fact
that, while you and I only notice the problems with the low roof and
gloomy lighting, Tropicana suffers from any number of other maladies.
According to the consultant’s report, the seats are too narrow and are
often facing the wrong direction, views of the field are obstructed
throughout the stadium, the concourse is too narrow and dead-ends,
which interrupts traffic flow and prevents fan socializing/drinking in
common areas, the press box sits where club seats should live, there
aren’t enough bathrooms, there isn’t enough storage, and the design of
the place makes life hard for the cleaning crews. All of that before
even mentioning the stupid catwalks.

What kills me in all of this
is that the Trop is not some artifact of the late industrial revolution
when people were small and discomfort was an accepted part of life. It
was designed and built in the mid-to-late 80s. I realize that was the
stone age as far as ballparks are concerned, but I’m pretty sure that
basic things like ergonomics and the benefit of good sight lines had
been discovered by then. What’s more, unlike the long gone but
not-lamented multiuse stadiums of the 60s and 70s, the Trop — while
capable of being used for other events — was built with baseball
specifically in mind and thus didn’t need to make nearly as many
compromises in quality and comfort that it did. Simply put, there’s
just no excuse for the disgrace to baseball that is that park.

But
that’s a battle that was lost long ago. The present battle — where the
Rays will play in the future — continues to rage with no apparent end
in sight.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

Joe Scarnici/Getty Images
11 Comments

The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.